Then & Now

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1800: an Indian traveller, Mirza Abu Taleb Khan, starts an extensive tour of Ireland and England. The poverty in Ireland shocks him - 'notwithstanding the cold climate . . . they never wear a shoe' - and he says that Indian peasants are rich in comparison. But he is impressed with the English social security system described in 'Travels', published in English translation in 1814:

'English charity does not consist in giving a small sum of money to a beggar, or a poor poet, or a starving musician. These persons they (the English) have a great aversion to; and should one of them follow a coach for miles, he would lose his labour, and not be able to soften the hearts of those seated therein. But their charities are of a public nature; for in every parish there is a house built for the poor, where they may reside, and receive a daily allowance of food. If a family be reduced to poverty by any accident, they have only to make their condition known to the parish officers, who are obliged immediately to admit them to the established allowance.

'These poor-houses are supported by a tax paid by every housekeeper in the parish; and the amount of their revenues has been estimated at three crores of rupees, or pounds 3,000,000 annually. Notwithstanding this immense expenditure, I saw a number of beggars in London, but was told they were idle worthless people, who preferred this mode of life to a regular stipend.'

1993: the district of Okara in Pakistan offers to send free fruit and vegetables to the poor pensioners of Stockport in Greater Manchester. Uproar ensues. Some Stockport citizens feel their town has been insulted.

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